Generous benefactor gives the gift of music, more to Alaska personnel

Coast Guard Base Kodiak

Coast Guard Base Kodiak is home to hundreds of Coast Guard personnel and their families. The base has been in place since the 1940s when the Coast Guard took it over from the Navy and supports an air station, three cutters a communications station, a fisheries training center, marine safety detachment and several support units. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

If you visited the Coast Guard Base in Kodiak in May you might have noticed a high degree of morale and a lot of music being played. This was due to a very generous donation of portable electronic devices that play music, capture photos and run apps to the personnel stationed there on behalf of Suzanne Maas and the Silicon Valley Foundation.

“In my 27 years of service I have not once witnessed a gift to service members quite like this,” said Cmdr. Paul Gill, executive officer Base Support Unit Kodiak. “This is very immediate and personal feedback to each and every member. While parades and words of encouragement are great and part of our American tradition, this personal touch is tangible and impacts every single active duty member in Kodiak. I don’t think it was the intent of our benefactor, but I have witnessed the crew being inspired by this generosity.”

Personnel at BSU Kodiak were contacted by Maas in early May and by the end of the month about 1,000 devices had been distributed.

Maas began the gifting in 2007 after a visit to the Alameda, Calif.,-based Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell in drydock. During the visit she felt the crew should have more to do while off duty especially when they are living aboard the ship, as is often the case while in drydock.

The command she spoke with aboard the cutter explained that many members, especially the junior enlisted, do not have a great deal of spending cash and those with families tend to save it for holidays and special occasions. She came up with the idea of gifting the devices as a way to give something back and entertain the crew.

Suzanne Maas, generous benefactor

Suzanne Maas has made it her mission to recognize the service of Coast Guardsmen throughout the nation since 2007. Photo courtesy Suzanne Maas.

“I was struck by a kid off-duty aboard the cutter in port watching a black and white movie with a hamburger in hand and I thought there has to be something better we can do for these kids,” said Maas.

After a six-month vetting process with Coast Guard Headquarters Maas was approved to distribute 129 devices to the Boutwell crew. Her generosity was met with a flurry of thank you letters and a Coast Guard liaison in Washington D.C. to assist with future donations. The receipt of a device exceeds the standing instruction that limit the acceptance of gifts and services to $25. Thus the vetting process was necessary and the project was handled by a Coast Guard legal team before being approved.

In the years since 2007, Maas has distributed devices to units across the Coast Guard. She started with the cutters and then learned of “hardship” duty stations that deploy often such as tactical law enforcement teams, Patrol Forces Southwest Asia, the polar icebreakers and the units that are located in remote regions like Alaska. The distribution of the devices became a mission for Maas with an annual budget of between $125,000 and $150,000.

Her contribution to the Coast Guard is not limited to the devices. Maas spent her career as a registered nurse in a neo-natal intensive care unit and now serves as a guest speaker in times of grief and tragedy.

“I came to Air Station Sitka in February to speak to the crews after the Coast Guard helicopter crash off Washington state to provide what comfort I could,” said Maas. “The whole unit received the devices engraved with the names of the crewmembers who died. Any time there is a disaster the whole unit receives them as quickly as I can manage it.”

The visit to Sitka led her to follow operations in Alaska and gift devices to more Alaska units. After following the Kodiak-based cutter Alex Haley’s efforts she visited Kodiak and made the decision to give devices to the whole base. It was the largest single donation she had made.

“I’ve been inundated with thank you letters and e-mails from people, aviators, cuttermen, administration, I can’t keep up with them but I’m glad they’d been well received,” said Maas.

When asked why she makes the donations Maas simply says she likes to give back to those who do so much and that “music is good for the soul.”

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